How often, when you have been faced with a challenge, crisis or struggle, have you been bombarded with comments to be ‘more positive’ and ‘look at the bright side’ and felt completely minimised or dismissed?
In this article, I want to explore the concept of ‘Toxic Positivity’ and some of the risks that it holds when we are focussing on connecting and supporting young people.
What is Toxic Positivity?
Toxic Positivity occurs when we dismiss our own, or someone else’s negative emotions, distress or crisis with false reassurance. It generally occurs when someone feels uncomfortable dealing with negative emotions and struggles to empathise with the situation that is happening. Toxic positivity is frequently a subconscious behaviour, and has good intentions, but creates disconnection and a divide with the person who is struggling as it minimises or dismisses their worries.
What does it look like?
Toxic positivity can look like telling someone:
- “Cheer up”
- “Be positive”
- “Get over it”
- “Good vibes only”
- “Being negative won’t help you”
- “It’s all going to be ok”
- “Look on the bright side”
- “Just stay positive”
- “Don’t worry about it”
- “Stop crying, everything is fine”
In specific situations it may look like:
- Someone who has been through a tragedy: “Everything happens for a reason”
- Someone who has been through a miscarriage “At least you know you can have children”
- Someone who have found a situation hard “Other people have it worst”
- Someone who has failed an exam “You’ll get over it”
- Someone who has lost a relationship “You’ll get over it”
- Someone who has lost an opportunity “Don’t be so negative”
- Someone who is scared or uncertain “Everything will work out”
What is the problem with toxic positivity?
Toxic positivity minimises the struggles of the individual who is experiencing negative emotions. In addition, it invalidates their feelings and disconnects from them. This can isolate an individual who is struggling and silence them from expressing their needs. Further, it indicates that we should only have positive emotions, which discredits negative feelings and can prevent individuals from having safe and non-judgemental spaces to be able to process and understand how they feel. Toxic positivity can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, embarrassment and prevent emotional development. It therefore undermines an individual’s reality and can lead to suppressed emotions.
Toxic positivity teaches children and young people that their negative feelings are NOT ok and this can prevent them from expressing them. Our emotions are important, when we suppress them, they frequently come out later on in life, or escalate.
When we frequently use toxic positivity it can prevent people from coming to us if they are struggling. In the case of young people, this can mean that they become more isolated or lose trust in adults, concerned that everyone will dismiss them. Whilst we want to make someone feel better with toxic positivity, it actually silences the other person. To bond with someone, we need to sometimes sit with them through uncomfortable emotions.
What do we need to remember about feelings?
- Negative feelings are important, they tell us that something is bothering us or that we are struggling to process a situation.
- Recognising our negative emotions is an important part of processing them.
- All feelings are temporary, but avoiding or suppressing them may mean that they last much longer.
- Life is full of a wide range of emotions, some situations cause hurt and pain, it is important to process these.
- Grieving things that I have lost allows me to make sense of what has happened and move forward when I am ready.
- In order to grow and learn from our experiences, we need to be able to first understand them.
What do we need to do instead?
We can consider, that we do not need to understand exactly how someone is feeling, but we do need to be compassionate and respectful. This includes:
- Listening to hear
- Respecting that we all have our own responses to things
- That it is important to take time to work through feelings
- That individuals do not need answers, just a safe space to be heard
- That talking allows us to process our feelings and thoughts
You might say:
- “I’m sorry that you are going through this”
- “That must be really hard”
- “This sounds really tough, is there anything I can do to support you?”
- “I love you, and I want to support you, how can I help?”
- “It’s important to let your feelings out, can I do anything?”
- “It sounds like things are really hard right now, do you want to talk about it?”
- “It’s ok to feel bad right now, it’s important to work through our feelings”
- “Is there anything I can do?”
- “It sounds as though you are really struggling right now, I want you to know you are not alone, how can I support you/what can I do to help?”
- “It’s normal and valid to have these feelings”
© Dandelion Training and Development – All Rights Reserved
For more articles about mental health visit – ARTICLES
To learn more about child and adolescent mental health visit – COURSES
For resources to support child and adolescent mental health visit –RESOURCES